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Sentence looms in Milwaukee fetal-abduction case

FILE – In this Sept. 17, 2012, file photo, Annette Morales-Rodriguez sits next to her attorneys in a Milwaukee court. Morales-Rodriguez is scheduled for sentencing Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 for trying to steal a baby by attacking a pregnant woman and slicing out her full-term fetus, killing both the mother and child. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 17, 2012, file photo, Annette Morales-Rodriguez sits next to her attorneys in a Milwaukee court. Morales-Rodriguez is scheduled for sentencing Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 for trying to steal a baby by attacking a pregnant woman and slicing out her full-term fetus, killing both the mother and child. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger, File)

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Annette Morales-Rodriguez, distraught over her inability to give her boyfriend a son, had already pretended to have two miscarriages and was faking a third pregnancy when she settled on a sinister plan to abduct another Hispanic woman, carve the child from her womb and pass it off as her own.

She followed through last year and ended up killing not only 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz, but also Ramirez-Cruz’s full-term son as well. On Thursday, Morales-Rodriguez will be sentenced to prison for life. The only unknown is whether the judge will allow for the possibility of parole. Wisconsin doesn’t have the death penalty.

Prosecutor Mark Williams declined to say what sentence he would seek.

“The facts speak for themselves,” he said. “It was a horrible crime. I’m going to hope she’s punished proportionately for that crime.”

Morales-Rodriguez’s attorneys didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Morales-Rodriguez, 34, was convicted of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, one for Ramirez-Cruz and one for the fetus. She didn’t testify during her trial, and her defense attorneys, who didn’t deny that she attacked Ramirez-Cruz, didn’t call any witnesses.

Instead, defense attorneys argued that the slayings were reckless but not intentional, because Morales-Rodriguez didn’t mean for the victims to die. They urged jurors to convict her of the lesser charge of first-degree reckless homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.

After less than two hours of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on the original charges.

A key piece of evidence during the trial was a videotaped police interview in which Morales-Rodriguez described her attack on the young mother. She admitted luring Ramirez-Cruz to her home, bludgeoning and choking her into unconsciousness, and then using a small blade to carve out the fetus.

In a 911 call played for jurors, she told a dispatcher that she had just given birth to a baby who wasn’t breathing.

In the ensuing investigation and autopsy, a medical examiner found evidence that the baby wasn’t the product of a natural birth. A subsequent examination verified Morales-Rodriguez hadn’t given birth.

Police later found the victim’s disemboweled body in Morales-Rodriguez’s basement.

In the recording, she sits at a desk in a small interrogation room, sobbing and sniffling and occasionally covering her face with her hands. Her voice is generally unwavering, but she pauses frequently and sighs heavily.

She sat in silence throughout the three days of testimony. She kept her head down and eyes open as she listened through headphones to an interpreter translating English into Spanish.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

Associated Press

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